I'd say the Native Americans had their own name for this river, but Spanish explorers initially named it El Rio de los Santos Reyes, which translates to the River of the Holy Kings. I am sure that if the Holy Kings, whoever they may be, were to choose a river in the Sierra to claim as their own, this river would be the obvious choice. Quite coincidental that in the vein of steep creek multi-day kayaking this title is still befitting. If I was one of a high court of Holy Kings, I think I would likely choose the Kings as my sinuous scepter, and Tehipite as my throne.
This river, along with a handful of others in California, has been blogged to death. Considering the current web saturation of Middle Kings content produced by professional photographers and kayaking legends, I feel my trip down the Kings has little relevance to anyone else other than the four of us who lived the Kings together for seven days. Like any impressive place in the world, any attempts to explain it with words or images falls feebly short of describing the full depth of this place. I will say that nowhere have I perceived the gap between expectation and reality as more staggering than on this trip. There's your obligatory superlative statement.
I have no over-spiritualized explanation of if and how paddling the Kings changed me, and why. When I pulled out at the end of this river there simply wasn't any room for explaining anything beyond the obvious. The obvious is that we spent a full day hiking from the desert over the divide and into the beginning of the longest stretch of class V I have ever seen. The hike was amazing in and of itself, and really put my mind in the right place for the coming days. We then spent six days paddling high quality and intense whitewater through one of the most impressive places I have ever been. We paddled through inspiring high alpine meadows, never-ending boulder fields, narrow gorges, and over waterfalls. We paddled the longest rapid any of us had ever seen that started at Tehipite Valley and ended nine miles downstream at the South Fork confluence. A scorpion tried to get Caleb and a Marmot tried to steal my coffee cup. There were cartwheels, eskimo rolls, boofs, melts, fear, blood, sweat, teamwork, high fives, whiskey, chocolate, swims, fish caught, lots of portages, mank, scouting, star-gazing, elation, revelry, and shit-talking. The only damage was a lost drain-plug. There was no drinking out of footwear. The trip was great. I can't wait to go back and do some more exploring. The whitewater is only part of the equation.
A few recommendations:
Consider a one-way car-rental from Fresno to Bishop. This saves roundtrip gas, trying to find a raft guide to run your shuttle, and burning another day or two retrieving a car. There is a Hertz in Bishop. Shuttle from Bishop to the Trailhead is $75 with High Sierra Shuttle. Split four ways, our rental car, gas, hotel, and shuttle to trailhead only cost $100 per person, and we were well rested in a hotel prior to our hike the next morning.
If you don't paddle in California much, the shuttle through Yosemite is very scenic, a little shorter on time traffic pending, and much shorter in distance.
Practice with a real pack system. Sure, people have shouldered and suffered every which way over Bishop Pass, but I got a nice backpack system(thanks Nick Barron)(pool-noodles don't count) and was mostly smiling the whole hike in. I also carried it in and out of Linville, Green, Big Creek, and even in my neighborhood to get it dialed.
Get Von's in Bishop to freeze you some big Rib Eye's ready for pickup the morning of your hike. It will take all day to thaw in your boat over the pass, and your first night you have a tasty dinner and recovery for the next several days.
Whiskey, chocolate, coffee, cheese, summer sausage, banana chips - all critical food stuffs.
Paddle Long Lake. It cuts 3/4 mile off the hike. At the inlet, head to the left to pick the trail back up.
Camping halfway down the brink is awful nice.
To avoid blisters from the hike, get runners glide and totally coat all wear spots on your feet and ankles. This stuff is like gold. Chaffing and blisters can ruin almost anything.
The Raw Dog gorge is completely worth figuring out. It's like adding Vallecito with a 30 footer at the top at no extra charge. You can portage the 30 footer.
Get to know Tehipite Valley. This place is magical. The base of the big falls is the perfect place to spend some time licking wounds as well as landing some epic trout (thanks Harjes).
The bottom nine is really long. We camped about 3-3.5 miles in, and that made it much more manageable.
Run Garlic Falls. Hiking out at Yucca Point is a failure in decision making or victimization by the here-say, depending on circumstances. Garlic Falls is an awesome run in its own right, and deepens the experience.
Take your time out there, but hurry back.
Be in the moment. Don't worry about what happened, what is downstream, and what you're going to order when you sit down to dinner in Fresno. All you ever have is right now, so be where you are. The river will sting you otherwise, and you'll be shorting yourself on the experience.
Bring your real third eye, and reserve the go-pro for cock stroke runs like Upper Cherry. The Kings will bring you to your knees.
Finally, there are 4 people who have done this whole trip in a day. That is the most impressive paddling feat I can think of, along with Doug Ammons' solo run of the Stikine. Oh to be a fly on the synapse.
Tehipite Dome, key destination
Taking a break on the long shuttle drive through Yosemite
Even the shuttle is breathtaking
South Lake trailhead the evening prior to our hike
Our trail ascending from South Lake
Getting started on the trip of a lifetime
Upper Bishop Lakes
Officially tired at this point
Ben atop Bishop Pass
Don't see much of this kind of scenery back home. Badass.
Our first campsite halfway down the brink
Mug Shot #0937 - Marmots will steal your cook-wear if you aren't heads up.
Ben really loves his green kayak.
The moment of arriving at the river is an awesome one
Like a 5 year old on Christmas morning
Ready for the next 6 days
Low volume beginnings
Slide above confluence with Palisade Creek
David on the same, shot from below
Caleb on the Money Drop
Yours truly, pre-roll practice in between drops
Our first night camping on the river, less than ideal, down in the depths
Ben scouting the big slide
and running the big slide
Looking downstream above the Waterfall Gorge
D Herm finishing the Waterfall Gorge
About to get a nose full
A perfect finish to one of the better stretches of water on the river
Scouting the final drop of the Raw Dog Gorge
Exiting the Gorge
The Great Phallus, Tehipite Dome
Silver Spray Falls on Crown Creek
or as I call it, The Tehipite Valley Rejuvenation Spa
Looking back out across the valley towards the Gorge of Despair
Tehipite in all its glory
Our cozy campsite midway down the Bottom Nine
Interesting spire looking downstream from our campsite
Looking up at the confluence of the Middle and South Forks
Dusk view into Garlic Falls Canyon, the final day of paddling the Kings
Thanks to Ben Blake and David Herman for all the photos. It was nice to take a trip off from carrying the heavy camera, especially on the Kings.